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Pro Players Pizza Party raises funds for fight against juvenile deliquency

RoberGarzChicago Bears offers words encouragement youngsters fundraiser for Lake County AreProject. | JOE CYGANOWSKI~FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Roberto Garza of the Chicago Bears offers words of encouragement to youngsters at a fundraiser for the Lake County Area Project. | JOE CYGANOWSKI~FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Pro Player Pizza Party

Last Friday night At Waukegan High School on Brookside.

Chicago Bears center Matt Garza was the featured speaker.

Sold tickets to the general public for $25, while tickets were made available to students for $10.

The event helped raise funds and awareness for the Lake County Area Project, a satellite of the non-profit Chicago Area Project, which strives to reduce juvenile delinquency by supporting efforts to improve conditions and reduce negativity in the community.

Several hundred area youths and a number of parents attended. Also there showing their support were State Representative Rita Mayfield and Waukegan Alderman Sam Cunningham.

A question/answer session with Garza in the school’s auditorium was emceed by Prinses Hemphill, the national celebrity event coordinator for Sports and Entertainment Today and CelebEvents, Inc.

Interspersed with more formal questions were guessing games in which members of the audience were awarded prizes for guessing correctly. Included in the guessing games were questions about Garza’s favorite color (black), and the informal nickname of his college team (Hoggies).

Afterward, attendees were invited to the school’s cafeteria for pizza from numerous local restaurants, along with wings and salad.

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Updated: January 26, 2014 2:45AM

For youngsters, the world in November 2013 is a video-game world, and an iPhone world, and a tablet world.

But that said, it’s still a Chicago Bears world — at least it was last Friday night at a fundraising event for the Lake County Area Project, a non-profit group that strives to reduce juvenile delinquency by supporting efforts to improve conditions and reduce negativity in the community.

The guest speaker at a fundraising pizza party for the LCAP was Bears starting center Roberto Garza, who has become a fixture in these parts whenever a worthy organization needs assistance with a event.

Garza drew the biggest cheer of the night from the several hundred youngsters on hand in the auditorium at Waukegan High, but not because of who he is.

But because of who he knows.

When talking about his team and its struggles with injuries, Garza made the following point: “We’ve had a lot of injuries this year, but guys like Josh McCown have stepped in and done a great job.”


Clearly, the youngsters have been following the Bears closely enough to know that backup QB McCown has been somewhat of a savior, although even he couldn’t save the team from itself this past Sunday.

Garza’s message to the crowd was this: “Education is a big part of whatever dream you have. It might be sports. It could be being a doctor, a lawyer, a singer, a teacher. Whatever dream you have, staying in school, making the right decisions, believing in yourself, and never giving up, those things will help you reach it.”

In truth, Garza was the perfect choice for what was billed as the Pro Players Pizza Party and was put on by CelebEvents Inc. The Chicago-based organization’s representative at Waukegan High was Prinses Hemphill, and she said in a release that the “Pro Players Pizza Party is a part of a ongoing national educational event series that brings athletes to interact with young fans. We are supported by local businesses and children’s organizations wanting to make positive impressions on the youth. Roberto Garza was selected this year to host because of his great ability to connect with young people.”

Sandra Thompson, executive director of the Lake County Area Project, was pleased with how the evening unfolded.

“The idea is really to promote the (LCAP) program, which is a juvenile delinquency prevention program that helps keep kids out of trouble,” she said. “We’re especially concerned with the issue of violence these days. There’s a lot of it going on. I’m so excited that we can get kids and families together and provide them something they can enjoy.”

As for Garza’s effort to help the kids, she added, “He was great. I loved everything he shared with the kids.”

As for Garza, the most interesting number of the night was this: Garza’s hometown, Rio Hondo, Texas, has a population of 2,356. Waukegan High School ALONE has almost twice that many students.

Garza talked to the audience about his hometown and answered questions about his career.

“We have one stop light, one grocery store, and one gas station. It’s definitely a small town. I graduated (from high school) in a class of 98,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from. As long as you believe in yourself, have dreams, and make the right choices, stay in school, you give yourself a chance to live out your dream.”

Garza said this to the youngsters: “When I graduated from high school I was 6-2, 230 pounds. There were no colleges calling me and asking me to play for them. I had friends at (Texas A&M-Kingsville), and they told me to try to walk on. After the first couple of weeks of training camp, I was a backup center, and then my true freshman year I started the last four games instead of redshirting. I ended up starting three and a half years there and was fortunate to win some awards at the Division II level.

“I got drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001, the same year that Michael Vick got drafted. I played for the Falcons for four years before I came here. I was fortunate enough to go to the Super Bowl in 2006. Unfortunately, we didn’t finish that game and win a championship. That’s what we’re trying to do now.”

This is the second year that a Bears player has participated in the Pro Players Pizza Party to support the LCAP, which is solidly backed by State Representative Rita Mayfield. Last year, it was Major Wright, the team’s starting defensive safety.

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